Books I Read in July

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Return (End Times Alaska Book 3)

by Craig Martelle


I didn’t like this book as much as the first two books in this series. For one thing, Chuck Nagy, the main character in these books, spends a significant time away from the other characters, but what goes on with them while he’s gone is still told in his voice. That bothered me a lot. The thing is, it could have been easily fixed by starting those scenes with something like “When I got back to the Community, I learned I was not the only one who was missing in action.” But instead, I had to make that assumption myself.

There was also a lack of tension in a lot of this book. As I implied above, there are three groups who go off from the Community in search of various things. That makes for a lot of traveling scenes, with what seemed like minor misadventures along the way. Sometimes the misadventures were missing. The people are delayed, but they’re not in serious jeopardy. Even when they are, the story is told in a detached manner, so you don’t feel it. I think this could have been fixed by telling some of this through the points of view of the worried wives, but that’s not the style of these books.

And then came the line that made me stop dead and realize why I didn’t this book:

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Writing as a Habit

Friday, July 19, 2019

July is turning out to be an amazing month for writer-me. First of all, I joined Holly Lisle’s Summer of Fiction Writing to keep me motivated as I draft what I thought was the first book in a historical mystery series. And then I joined a Cabin of indie writers for Camp NaNoWriMo because it popped up in a Facebook group I belong to.

I’ve missed the goals group I used to moderate for the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime. I knew I would when I decided to leave the Guppies, but I’d outgrown that chapter. It was originally founded to support new mystery writers, and while published authors tend to stick around these days, they also tend not to participate in the discussion unless they have a new book to promote. Not all of them, of course, but too many in my opinion.



Belonging to a goals group (the Guppies wasn’t the first one I’d been in) gives me one thing I need in order to make consistant progress in my writing: accountability. It’s amazing how much your attitude changes when you have to tell someone else what you’ve accomplished each week. It’s even more amazing when you’ve promised them what you intend to accomplish the week before. No longer can you get away with such vague thoughts as “I should work on my novel this week.” No, there for all the world to see, you’ve put in writing “I will write 5,000 words on my novel this week.”

Gulp.


Now, neither SOFW nor CampNano is exactly a goals group, although you do set a writing goal for each one. In Holly Lisle’s group, people acknowledged that they needed more regular accountability than the massive three-month statement of what they intended to accomplish by August 31st. Holly has “weekly” milestone posts, which are one for each of your seven working day periods. So if you’re only working five days a week, your Day 35 check-in is going to happen almost a week after that of someone who’s writing seven days a week. So different threads have been set up for monthly and daily goals to suit how the various members want to report their progress. With Nano, there’s the ability to chart in how many words you’re up to each day.

Because of these two events, I’ve been forming a writing habit. I know I have to write a certain number of words each day to accomplish my goal of finishing the first draft of a book in a new mystery series by the end of August. I know how many days there are between the time I started and the time I should be done. Taking into account that I have scheduled days off (writing seven days a week leads to burn-out and exhaustion for me), simple math came up with I need to write 1100 words a day to accomplish my goal.

Since I know I’m going to have to put my success or failure out in public, I’m much more motivated to prioritize writing time. If for some reason I don’t get my words completed in the morning (like yesterday’s Red Sox day game), I make myself sit at my desk later in the day. Last night it was closing in on 8:00 PM before I put my butt in my chair, and I got over 1200 words done before I quit for the day.

And today I’m writing this blog before breakfast so that afterwards I’ll have my usual block of time to continue working on the novel.

Because goal setting works so well for me, if Holly doesn’t set up a Fall of Fiction Writing event, I think I’m going to start a Facebook group for writers to track writing goals. I hope at least a few of the writers I know want to join it.
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Perseverance

Saturday, July 06, 2019
I’m a Red Sox fan. When you live in the Boston area for any period of time, it’s hard not to be, and somehow that loyalty follows you wherever you live after that. That’s why Red Sox Nation is an international phenomenon.
I got spoiled last year. We all got spoiled.
Two-thousand eighteen was one of those magical years for the Red Sox when everything went right. Grand slams were common. Everybody got one. Pitching was phenomenal. The Sox piled up wins like beavers do sticks when building a new dam in the spring. And, of course, the piece de resistance: they won the World Series convincingly.

I had one of those phenomenal years as a writer in 2016. Oh, it was nothing like Hugh Howey or Mark Dawson money, but I definitely made a profit on my writing, and I thought I was on my way to a comfortable supplement to my retirement income. I also had fun getting there.





That was the year I released the first three books in my African Violet Club mystery series. Writing the first book had started out as a lark. My first attempt at a mystery series wasn’t successful. I made a lot of mistakes, both in the writing and in the marketing of it. So, when NaNoWriMo rolled around, I decided I was going to write a just-for-fun book, something not serious at all, something that would never be published.
That was the first draft of True Blue Murder, and I had a great time doing it. The next year, not having made much progress on my “serious” writing, I wrote a second book with the same cast of characters. Again I had fun doing it, because I loved Lilliana and her friends and there was no pressure on me to make it a perfect book.
By year three, I realized I had the beginning of an engaging cozy mystery series. This time, I used NaNoWriMo to write Royal Purple Murder, and I knew it would be published.
Writing the books the way I had meant that I could do something called “rapid release.” If I revised all of the books before publishing any of them, I could take advantage of the Amazon algorithms, which favor new books over old. In other words, Amazon would do some of my marketing for me, by showing each of the books to potential readers free of charge.
That’s what I did in 2016. I published each of the first three books in the AVC mystery series approximately a month apart. And I earned money.
Unfortunately, it took me another year to publish the fourth book. While some writers can publish a book a month, I’m a much slower writer. All the momentum I’d built up with my rapid release had evaporated by that time. I had to work harder to sell it and the two books that followed.
I knew that in order to be successful as an indie author, I needed to publish a book every three months. I even made “production schedules” for a couple of years showing how I was going to do that. Unfortunately, my production didn’t meet the schedule.
I had another problem: Lilliana had a character arc. Now, this is supposed to be a good thing in fiction. Almost all the books you read on how to write a novel insist that the character has to change over the course of it, learn a lesson, and live the rest of her life differently because of what she’s learned. Now, that works fine for a single book, like a romance novel. Not so much for an ongoing series.
If you’ve read a lot of mysteries, you probably know that Miss Marple doesn’t change, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t change, Jack Reacher doesn’t change. Stephanie Plum is never going to choose between Ranger and Morelli. What changes is the plot. Even the plot doesn’t change a whole lot. You have a new victim, a new murderer, a new motive, but the stories follow a pattern that readers have come to expect. (That’s the same for romance and every other type of genre fiction.)
By the end of Holly Green Murder, Lilliana had changed from the woman she was in True Blue Murder. I couldn’t imagine her going on to solve more crimes.
I struggled with this the same way I struggled with writing another book in my first series. I tried to come up with a realistic way she could go on as she always had. Alternatively, I toyed with the idea of a kind of spin-off series, one that would allow her to still be an amateur sleuth, but in not quite the same way. None of what I came up with was satisfying to me.
I also knew there was a serious flaw in the world I’d created for the African Violet Club mysteries. Now, for those readers who love the books, this aspect of the stories worked well. However, it resulted in a number of three-star (and much lower) ratings from other cozy mystery readers. I wanted to eliminate that element (which I intended to do if I wrote a spin-off), but knew there were readers who would be disappointed if I did.
Put all this together, and my just-for-fun project had turned writing into a difficult thing to continue.

That’s why I decided to make 2019 a year of experimentation. I wrote a historical western romance because I’d enjoyed the romance between Lilliana and Christopher and romance sells really well. While I think it’s a decent book, I discovered that I’m not really a romance writer. I’m not champing at the bit to write another romance story.
For the past month, I’ve been working on another mystery series. This is the first time in ages that I’ve been excited to get to the research and planning and writing of a novel each day. I love putting the puzzle together hoping readers won’t find it too easy to unravel. I can envision writing several books in this series, and I’ve learned enough to—hopefully—not repeat the mistakes I’ve made before. Only time will tell.
I’ll have to finish this book and start on the next one—and the one after that and the one after that—to find out if this will be the series where I break out as a novelist.

So, last night, as the Red Sox seemed to be fumbling their way to yet another loss in 2019, I turned off the game and watched something else. There was a rain delay, and I had no real desire to wait through it for more disappointment. Later, I gritted my teeth and checked the final score. The Red Sox won! They’d come back and won the game.
I replayed the game from where I’d left it then to see how that happened, and to feel the joy that a comeback win brings. It’s not the first time in recent days that the Red Sox have come back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit. Even the London games, which they lost to the hated Yankees, had them coming back several times to remain in the game. They just might be able to save this season after the All-Star Game. Because they haven’t given up.

Neither have I.
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